The act of acquiring an elite Western Hockey League player, even one that is clearly a rental, is not a bargain-bin process.
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter obtained 20-year-old forward Adam Helewka from the Spokane Chiefs Friday. The cost of landing the big sniper was rather large — team captain/overage winger Wyatt Johnson, promising prospect Eli Zummack, a second-round pick in this year’s WHL bantam draft and a fifth-rounder in 2017.
“Obviously, it always comes down to that if you want to get something good, you have to give up assets,” said Sutter. “Unfortunately, it’s taken a player and a person like Wyatt out of our dressing room. That part stings, no question about it.
“We also gave up a very good young prospect and two picks.”
However, Sutter simply couldn’t pass on the opportunity of acquiring a proven WHL star winger who last season contributed 44 goals and 87 points and this season has fired 16 goals and added 13 assists in 19 games.
Helewka, a six-foot-two, 200-pound native of Burnaby, B.C., was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL entry draft and is playing for a pro contract this season.
“We’re getting a player who, from our standpoint, is probably one of the top three players in our league … a big forward who puts up numbers,” said Sutter. “He’s a game-breaker … he can make a difference in a game. To be able to acquire somebody like that you have to give up a lot and we certainly did.
“It’s a good trade for everybody. That’s how you want it to work.”
Friday’s blockbuster deal was the second in less than a week for Sutter, who last Sunday snared scoring forward Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos in return for forward Lane Pederson, a first-round bantam draft pick in 2017 and a third-rounder this year.
“We look at these two trades and we’ve added two guys who can play on our first line and be guys who can put up big numbers. They are guys who know how to play the game,” said Sutter.
With the Rebels set to host the Memorial Cup tournament in May, Sutter knew he had to further upgrade his roster to get closer to being a championship-calibre team. And yet, as he noted, the Helewka deal did not transpire overnight.
“This is something that consisted of several stages and was in the process for quite some time,” said the Rebels boss. “We were finally able to get it nailed down after the game last night in Cranbrook (where Red Deer beat the Kootenay Ice 6-4).”
Johnson, who was in his fourth year with the Rebels and has recorded nine goals and 26 points in 38 games this season, was en route to Spokane Friday and therefore unavailable for comment. Sutter admitted the Saskatoon native was somewhat upset with the transaction.
“It was hard for him,” said Sutter. “He’s been a warrior for us and he’s a tremendous kid, a tremendous young man. It’s hard, but at the same time, like I told him, he had an opportunity to play here for three and a half years and we like to believe we do things right here and have a very good organization. Now he gets to experience another really good organization.
“Spokane is a little younger team and is obviously not in the same situation as we were in regards to what we have coming in the spring. But they’re pushing to be first in the U.S. Division so there’s lots to play for there as well. Once Wyatt gets there and gets settled in, he’ll be fine.”
Helewka was en route to Red Deer Friday and will be in the Rebels lineup tonight when the Brandon Wheat Kings visit the Centrium.
“Adam is excited,” said Sutter. “It’s disappointing for him to leave Spokane but he’s excited about coming here. Again, you want it to work out for all players concerned and for both organizations.
“We’re excited about acquiring a player like that. He’s a big-time player.”
While Johnson, who has nine goals and 26 points in 38 games this season, is clearly not Helewka’s equal in terms of offensive output, the 20-year-old is a proven leader and the Rebels will miss his character.
That being said, as Sutter noted, his newest acquisitions also possess those intangibles.
“The thing is, you’re bringing leadership into your room, too,” he said. “It’s not like these guys weren’t leaders on their (former) teams. Jake DeBrusk was a leader in Swift Current and Adam was a leader in Spokane.
“It’s not like we’re not bringing leadership back. It’s new (leadership), but it’s still very valuable.”
Johnson should fit in nicely with the Chiefs, however, from their perspective the transaction likely revolved around the five-foot-nine, 160-pound Zummack, a 15-year-old from Kelowna who was the Rebels’ second-round bantam draft pick — 36th overall — last spring.
Zummack was named to the 2015 Western Canada U16 Challenge all-star team and has produced 27 points (5-22) in 22 games with the major midget Okanagan Rockets this season.
Surrendering such a promising young talent was tough, but as Sutter noted …
“We were in a spot where we could do it because of what we have for depth with young players inside of our organization and with what we’ve accumulated in draft picks over the past two to three years. We were able to use some of those picks to finalize these deals.”
Sutter said he will consider making more moves if they make sense.
“Let’s get Adam settled in and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said. “It’s something that we’ll just continue to monitor.”
He’s also in no hurry to name a new team captain.
“We’re not going to rush into that,” said Sutter. “We’re just going to let it unfold and see where our game goes and how things fall into place over time and then a make a decision.
“We don’t need to name a captain, either. Sometimes that’s over-rated. There have been teams who have gone a whole season without someone wearing a ‘C’. It’s not something we have to do right away.”
• The Rebels were up 3-0 midway through Thursday’s game at Cranbrook, then watched their hosts snipe the next four goals. Red Deer, however, closed out the contest with three unanswered markers — including two from Grayson Pawlenchuk — over the final five minutes to nail down the 6-4 win.
Jeff de Wit also tallied twice for the Rebels, with both coming during first-period power plays, while Conner Bleackley and Ivan Nikoloshin also connected. Jesse Zaharichuk, Noah Philp, Austin Wellsby and Matt Alfaro each had a goal for the Ice.
Trevor Martin turned aside 32 shots in the Red Deer net. Wyatt Hofflin made 26 saves for Kootenay.
Rebels forward Adam Musil sat out with an upper-body injury and teammate Presten Kopeck suffered an upper-body injury during the game and won’t play tonight.